Saudi Crown delivers on promise in Pennsylvania Derby

By Tim Wilkin
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The Bensalem skies were gray, and the cold winds blew late Saturday afternoon at Parx Racing. An all-day rain had given way to a misty air over the track, threatening to put a pall over the biggest day of racing on the Pennsylvania calendar. However, inside the paddock, it was all sunshine and rainbows when the young, gray colt named Saudi Crown came strutting in following the 43rd running of the Grade 1, $1 million betPARX Pennsylvania Derby. FMQ Stables, the rookie ownership group from Saudi Arabia, were whooping it up along with trainer Brad Cox and his team. They were able to let out a little steam after Saudi Crown, the even-money favorite, had completed a gate-to-wire journey by winning the 1 1/8-mile race by a half length over Dreamlike, trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. With the win, Saudi Crown dropped himself into the conversation among the leading 3-year-olds in the country, along with the likes of Belmont and Travers winner Arcangelo, Florida Derby winner 2022 champion 2-year-old male Forte and Kentucky Derby winner Mage. At least that is what his trainer thinks. This was the first graded stakes win for the son of Always Dreaming out of the Tapit mare New Narration. “I think so,” Cox said. “He has been there. He needed a breakthrough performance and I think he is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country.” Ridden by Florent Geroux, Saudi Crown improved his record to three wins in five starts with a pair of seconds. All of his races have been during his 3-year-old season. And, with a little luck, he might be undefeated. The two times Saudi Crown lost, he was beaten by a nose in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park June 30 and lost by the same margin in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga July 29. “We have asked a lot out of him in the last two runs and I think he gained a lot of experience and has been battle-tested in his last two runs,” Cox said. In the Pennsylvania Derby, he showed his trademark early speed by cutting fractions of :23.16, :47.27 and 1:12.17. “He broke like a rocket,” Geroux said. “I thought I was in a great spot.” “Based on what we saw throughout the day, I thought he had to be aggressive,” Cox said. “Sometimes, you see that and everyone has the same idea. He has enough natural speed to break clear off and he did and Flo did a great job.” Scotland, from Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott’s stable, kept up the chase with jockey Junior Alvarado until the three-eighths pole. Heading into the stretch, Saudi Crown’s lead widened to 2 lengths but he had to brace for the challenge from Dreamlike, who was ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. “Going into the stretch, he wanted to be in the clear,” Ortiz said. “He was responding. He was closing. For a second, I thought if that horse would just come back a little, I could get there.” For a moment, Cox was having a case of deja vu as he had seen this show before. He was hoping it was not going to happen again, a narrow loss at the finish line. “Right before he straightened up I saw his ears going back and forth and I thought he was looking around a little bit,” Cox said. “He kind of got a little lost. He is still lightly raced and Flo had to re-engage and push him along.” Reincarnate, the second choice in the field of 11, never made a serious bid from post position 11 and finished sixth. Saudi Crown will likely head to the Breeders’ Cup. Which race – the Dirt Mile or the Classic – has yet to be determined. Faisal M. Alqahtani of FMQ Stables said the decision will come from Cox. FMQ has been involved in U.S. racing for one year. Alqahtani came to the states for the recent Keeneland September yearling sale and stayed for the Pennsylvania Derby. They purchased Saudi Crown for $240,000 at last year’s OBS April sale of 2-year-olds in training. “He could be in the Classic,” said Cox, who also said the Saudi Cup next year would be in play because of the owners. Saudi Crown covered the distance in 1:50.62 over the sloppy track and paid $4.20. He earned $546,000 to boost his earnings to $817,085. Il Miracolo finished third, a neck ahead of Magic Tap. The Antonio Sano-trained Il Miracolo had to survive a jockey objection lodged by Tyler Gaffalione, who was aboard Magic Tap. After a short review, the objection was disallowed. Crupi finished fifth followed by Reincarnate, Gilmore, Daydreaming Bob, West Coast Cowboy, Scotland and Modern Era.